Saturday, April 30, 2011

Renouncing Empire
by Michael S. Rozeff

The peoples of the world once looked up to America and Americans. They held them in high respect and esteem. They respected their ideals. They respected their know-how and products.

Now, by its foreign policies of empire and their domestic counterparts, the U.S. government is destroying the dignity of America and Americans. Our morality is falling along with our productivity. Today, there is less and less of which Americans can be proud and there is more and more of which to be ashamed.

America can go in one of two ways. It can continue on the path of empire, in which case it continues downhill and impedes the world’s progress; or it can renounce empire, in which case it restores the dignity of Americans and imparts new opportunities to the peoples of the world.

America can lead the world down, in which case it becomes a backwater; or it can lead the world up, in which case Americans establish a moral center for freedom that radiates light to the world and opens up new paths for freedom everywhere.

To move America and the world into a more hopeful future in both word and deed, American leadership should make a 180 degree turn. It should renounce empire.

The only major politician who is leading America in this direction is Congressman Ron Paul. His is a lonely but courageous voice in Washington. The commendable directions he is proposing add up to renouncing empire.

What does renouncing empire involve? In his speeches, Congressman Paul has mentioned many of the specific steps as he condemns the American empire. The reader may search for Ron Paul + American empire to find a good many of his thoughts on this subject.

What do Americans generally believe concerning their empire? What changes in beliefs does the renunciation of empire entail?

Like all social structures, the American empire makes heavy use of falsity, lies, illusions, deceptions, and myths that come to be taken as truths by those who are immersed in a structure. There is no social structure, be it family, society, state, business, association, church or religious establishment, that does not hide truths about itself and whose members do not act according to various falsehoods that pass for truths. The state and empire are not exceptions.

In order to pursue the new direction of renouncing empire, Americans are going to have to face up to their false beliefs concerning the empire. They then have to adopt new beliefs. Hopefully, these will contain a greater measure of truth.

Perhaps about half of Americans do not believe that they have an empire. A very small voluntary poll of 37 people finds opinion almost evenly split. Another small poll finds about half the respondents saying that the U.S. is not really an empire or they do not know. A Fox News poll finds 68 percent approval for an American empire. These polls may have serious biases.

It is safe to say that Americans tend to support America’s foreign involvements, for these have grown over the years and people keep electing candidates who fund the empire. Americans tend to believe that these involvements are for the good, especially when they are first begun. For example, in October of 2001, 90 percent of Americans approved of the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan. By September of 2009, this had fallen to 47 percent approval of the war, 42 percent disapproval, and 11 percent not knowing. At the outset of the Iraq War in 2003, 74 percent of Americans viewed it as the right decision. By 2006-2007, something like 50-60 percent of Americans thought that the war was a mistake and that the situation in Iraq was not worth a war.

There is a good chance that Americans do not fully appreciate either the extent of empire or its costs, especially the long-term aggregate costs, simply because these are not routinely reported.

Whatever the extent of American support for empire is, these supportive beliefs have to change if empire is to be renounced in the hearts and minds of Americans in any kind of permanent fashion. Americans have to understand that they have an empire and that its effects are a net negative for them and for the rest of the world’s peoples.

Americans attribute each of our numerous foreign involvements to specific causes and aims, like securing oil, securing America’s borders, protecting Israel, anti-terrorism, saving Europe from the Kaiser, spreading democracy, spreading freedom, humanitarianism, anti-Communism, creating stability, national security, and so on. The government provides these rationales, the press parrots them, and people believe them. These particularistic explanations are like finding different excuses every time one’s alcoholic uncle gets drunk. If the government makes a case for some sort of war, Americans tend to approve it in large numbers, at least at the outset.

Americans need to understand that only a broader underlying factor can explain America’s foreign policy history over the last 100-150 years. That factor or policy is empire. The U.S. is running an empire. American leaders have again and again made this perfectly clear. They have said in honeyed words that they wanted American domination, but they have avoided using that term much less referring to their worldwide construction as an empire. American involvements are always couched in terms of doing good deeds, like bringing peace to the world. In the Fox News Poll, "68% of Americans said they support the establishment of an American empire, ‘if it brings peace to the world.’"

Americans believe that all these specific causes are in the service of achieving good, or that they are undertaken with good intentions. This unthinking belief leads Americans astray in several fundamental respects of which most Americans are unaware.

In the first place, Americans are unconcerned with the violent methods that are being used to achieve these supposed ends. These are rarely questioned or even mentioned. In the Fox News poll, 58% favored cuts in domestic spending "in order to support military occupations around the world." Americans avoid thinking about the evils employed and produced in the pursuit of what they think are good ends. They do not seem to realize that in this world the over-zealous pursuit of supposedly good or moral ends, especially when it becomes a very strong and broad pursuit that aims at coercively eliminating evils, itself is evil and creates evils. Besides, the supposedly good ends are usually not all that good anyway. The Crusades are an example. One historian specialist on this era writes that "High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed...the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God."

It is often said that America cannot alleviate or eliminate all the evils in the world, or, more narrowly, cannot deal with all the foreign political evils of which we become aware. This is surely true. This is not simply a matter of a lack of will power, a lack of efficient governmental execution, and a lack of resources. If we had those, we still could not eliminate all the evils. The reason is that we, as a state and society, or as a collective, are not committed to peaceful means. We are committed to using money, manipulation, subterfuge, threats, pressures, coercions, covert CIA operations, and far more violent means and methods than those. We do not act collectively like loving exponents of Jesus Christ any more than most of us act that way individually. Our crusades are no better than those 700-1,000 years ago.

The means that we use in our empire are evil in themselves. Using evil means, we encourage and reward evil motives among us. Using evil means to accomplish what we think are good ends invariably gives rise to more evils in many forms when we practice the evil methods.

Stopping terrorists looks like a good end. Stopping every terrorist anywhere on earth looks even better. Nevertheless, this pursuit, even if it were done with the best of intentions, produces numerous evils. The evidence of this result is plain in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is plain within America where the abridgment of freedoms is ongoing. It is plain in the use of torture, kidnappings, and indefinite imprisonment of persons without any kind of judicial proceedings. It is plain in an FBI that continually seduces persons into "terrorist" conspiracies.

The war on drugs has produced the same kind of situation. In pursuit of what seems to be a good thing to many people, we have filled the prisons with an enormous number of people. We have created stronger and stronger gangs who batten on the illegality of drugs. We have created police corruption.

The lesson is that we cannot use the collective force of the state to organize our society into a massive pursuit of any supposed good without producing evils. To drive this point home, consider a domestic case. Suppose we attempted to rid our country of all crimes of any sort. This too would produce many evils. We’d be under constant observation. We’d be spied on. We’d lose privacy. We’d face indoctrination and control by those who are anxious to stop crime before it takes root in our minds. We’d be under the thumb of police. We’d be seeing police and monitoring devices everywhere we looked. Our movements and activities would be constantly tracked. Life would become intolerable under such conditions. Freedom of thought, speech, and activity would become risky activities.

The law would become an institution of oppression. The police would have to enforce laws. New laws create new crimes. In our society where laws can be passed to regulate almost any behavior, the attempt to enforce laws and wipe out crime becomes totalitarian oppression. Laws and their ironclad enforcement using our typical methods of punishment do not make for justice, and more so when the laws are bad laws. Indeed they undermine justice because justice requires attention to the details of every individual case and it requires methods other than enforcing arbitrary laws and then locking people up who disobey them.

Here too, in this hypothetical case which is actually becoming less and less hypothetical in modern America, we’d find that, in not acting like loving exponents of Jesus and in propounding Pharisaism, we are creating evils in a misguided attempt to wipe out crime.

Thus, after recognizing that we have an empire, we have to acknowledge that we are not acting in a Christ-like fashion, no matter how good we think our ends are. We have to understand that the more intensely and systematically that we attempt to achieve some supposedly good end by using force, and this is what the state at best hopes to accomplish through its collective might, the more evilly we are ourselves behaving and the more evils we are causing.

That’s the best case. That’s the case in which our aims are good ones. But in reality this is not what is happening. For, in the second place, empire, rather than being an honorable and pure pursuit of good ends via the state, arises from all sorts of questionable motives of the people and interest groups that promote empire. Although our leaders constantly disclaim any ambitions related to empire and the educational establishment propagates this myth, it is simply another one of the falsities upon which the social structure is built.

The American empire is not a purely humanitarian endeavor. It advances the interests of specific persons and groups. Americans are only dimly aware of the special interest groups, such as the armaments companies, that lie behind the empire. They are only dimly aware of the Halliburtons and Bechtels that profit from war. They are only dimly aware of the panoply of institutions, such as central banking, that support the empire. They are only dimly aware of the foreign policy establishment and its intellectual offshoots that basically own and run foreign policy and the empire. The size and strength of the military are, in their minds, causes for celebration and pride. The absence of a military draft and the suppression of battlefield information by the press support a careless attitude toward the military and its overseas engagements.

The awareness of the empire’s feet of clay is changing. The reality of many strange foreign entanglements is helping to change this perception. The huge national debt and the huge government deficits are helping to make people uneasy and question the unimaginably expensive military adventures of the empire. Numerous exposures of corruption and specific crimes and misdemeanors of government figures help.

But Americans tend to forget too or never learn the lessons they should have learned. The society and state constantly press forward with their myths and this too counteracts what people might otherwise realize are the truths of empire.

Vietnam is a distant memory, if that. It is well to recollect the Vietnam War and its aftermath in order to understand the futility of the empire’s wars and the potential for peace that opens up when America withdraws from such fields of combat and acts peacefully. The last American soldier was killed in Vietnam on April 29, 1975. The total number of American military deaths due to hostilities in that war was 47, 413. The total costs of the Vietnam War run far in excess of that.

But within 15-20 years of the war’s conclusion, America and Vietnam were conducting friendly business and trade relations. On July 28, 2000, this communist nation opened a stock market in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

In sum, if Americans want to regain their dignity and radiate the beams of liberty once again, they have to start thinking in several new directions. They have to realize that the pursuit of good by evil means creates more evil. They have to realize that they cannot eliminate all the world's evils and shouldn’t attempt to do so by force or force-related means. They have to realize that their motives have not been pure, but mixed in with interests pursuing gains for themselves, no matter what the consequences for others. Falsity has to be bared.

To shift away from empire, Americans have to disavow it. They have to go directly against the powerful interest groups that favor it. If they really want to end the empire, they can find the ways to do it. They can stop electing pro-war and pro-military politicians. They can end the central bank. They can end the income tax. They can dismantle the worldwide American structure.

Renouncing empire means articulating a new global foreign policy. Americans can go back to the historic American policy of neutrality to all nations and non-intervention.

The existing policies of empire wouldn’t be with us if the promoters of empire had not made them sound good, even if they are dreadfully bad. The neoconservatives promoted and still are promoting benevolent hegemony. This includes the idea that America is exceptionally good and so are Americans, so that if we have to break a few heads (that is, kill and maim people) while spreading our goodness to the benighted of this world, we are justified in doing so. An omelet, we are told, cannot be made without breaking eggs.

Given the most threadbare of justifications or even none at all except a suspicion that some country somewhere might do something bad or harbor some terrorists or people with terrorist ambitions, the benevolent hegemony idea is that the U.S. has a right or even duty to be the world’s benevolent policeman and jump in with military forces and methods. We can see what this has brought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier in American history, this policy or something like it brought Americans into World War I, which was supposed to be the war that ended all wars. World War I had catastrophic consequences, including setting the stage for World War II. Similarly, the war on terror, advertised as a hundred years war, is one of these goals of empire in which the single-minded, never-ending, and all-encompassing pursuit of something that sounds good actually has already created far more evils than it has eliminated.

American empire involves tripwire alliances like NATO that involve collective security. This is a recipe for becoming involved in the politics of others. If they get into a war, it means that Americans also usually get into it. Renouncing empire means that Americans have to stop the policy of collective security.

It has been a policy of the U.S. to protect Americans wherever they may travel in the world or locate businesses. This policy involves all Americans in protecting the interests of some Americans. Taxes are forced from taxpayers that then go to subsidizing the protection of those of us who happen to go overseas or locate businesses overseas. Instead of this policy of subsidizing private interests, businesses that incur overseas risks in their pursuit of gains should internalize the costs of protection themselves. Their customers should pay for it, not taxpayers at large. If this is the case, we can expect a more efficient market for insurance and protection to evolve than using political means that drag in whole countries against one another due to the actions of a few.

Renouncing empire is going to cause howls of protest from the beneficiaries and supporters of empire. The least little bit of instability in some foreign land will provide ammunition for the proponents of empire to declare that America cannot abandon its supposedly constructive peacekeeping role in the world. This is one reason why renouncing empire has to have broad and deep public support and understanding as the right thing to do.

The U.S. government has generally to withdraw its military forces, pare them back, end its covert CIA operations, and end its use of economic and financial aids and pressures upon governments. This will be a tacit acknowledgment of our limitations, but it will also be both prudent and moral.

Withdrawals will be derided as defeats, as hasty, as ill-advised, and as cowardly. We will be told that we are turning back the clock. We will be told that we are appeasers. We will be told that we are isolationist. We will be told that we are shirking our responsibilities. Renunciation of empire is going to provoke a full scale war of words.

In order for renunciation to succeed, Americans will have to understand that the costs of empire far outweigh its benefits. They will have to understand that it is renunciation or America’s continued deterioration. The end of empire is not by any means going to solve the problems of many lands. Some of them will worsen. The old temptations to ship arms, send advisors, choose up sides, send in aid, foment revolutions, impose sanctions, and send in the military will all beckon. It will be difficult to remain neutral and wait for others to resolve their difficulties on their own without American interference. Renunciation of empire means breaking such entrenched habits and ending the institutions that support them.

The overblown war on terror must be officially ended. It has replaced anti-communism as a rationale for the geopolitical aims of U.S. policies. It is a cover story for American engagements worldwide on a long-term basis. There can be no renunciation of empire without also ending the war on terror.

There are going to be withdrawal symptoms. There will be problems of credibility. At first, others will not believe that a major power will permanently reverse its course. However, the British Empire did it. The Russian Empire did it. Whatever steps America takes have to be preceded by a shocking change in policy that announces the new directions, acknowledges the faults of the previous course, announces that world history is changing, explains why it has to change, and makes some dramatic steps that prove to the world that the U.S. means what it says. Americans must be warned that the immediate results are going to be changes in a number of nations and political instability in some. The dismantlement of the empire then has to start proceeding rather quickly. The momentum cannot be lost.

Renouncing empire means also that the domestic defense (war) budget has to be cut. Imagine the howls of pain from countless Congressmen about military cutbacks in their districts. There is no choice. Such cutbacks should be accompanied by permanent tax cuts. This raises the credibility of the shift with the American people and it improves the incentives for Americans to get back to work producing high-quality goods that the world values, not an expensive military establishment that wastes America’s capital.

The particulars of retrenching the empire require a degree of sophisticated consideration because the U.S. government has involved us in a worldwide web of entanglements and commitments. These commitments are going to be broken. There are going to be foreign governments that are going to fall. Some wars may break out. Some conflicts will heighten. Powers will rise and fall.

In laying out some of what renouncing empire means, it looks like a tall order. It isn’t. Renunciation is feasible and possible. The prime example is Great Britain in the 1960s and following years when it ended its empire. In its own way, somewhat the same sort of thing happened to the Soviet Union when its empire ended, although more quickly and in less of a planned or controlled fashion. In both cases, various limitations had made it impossible to sustain the empire. Political figures began to make the transition away from empire. The end result was a shrunken degree of dominance over various lands that became more independent.

The same thing is happening to America. Its limitations in the maintenance of its empire are becoming more and more evident. The costs of empire are rising and visible without accompanying benefits. So too will the American empire come to a close.

The political path that will occur as America retrenches is anything but clear. My main apprehension is that the supporters of empire will continue to use the powers of government to raise the degree of its totalitarian rule domestically – all, of course, in the name of good. This is the most worrisome trend of the past decade, made concrete in the Department of Homeland Security. The integration of military methods into police forces combined with national organization of these forces is an extremely troubling development. These forces have technological and weapons advantages over the broad public. The public has to bring these forces under control or else the empire’s supporters will use them to cow the public into submission. If these forces gain the upper hand, this country will witness an exodus of people and capital.

In addition, rather than making a rational transition away from empire, the latest administration has expanded government even more. It has not made serious efforts to renounce the empire or take significant steps in that direction. If public attitudes do not rapidly shift and raise the standing of a Ron Paul or of others who stand for his recommended policies, then we can expect higher inflation and continued economic difficulties simply because the costs of empire are a heavy tax on American productivity.

Even if the military is cut back, we face another problem. America has a domestic empire in which the federal government is running impossibly expensive domestic welfare programs while heavily regulating the economy. This cannot go on either. This empire will also fall. This administration and the preceding one have made this problem worse by increasing the welfare state.

These problems are surfacing in an inflationary economy that is stagnant, in which standards of living decline.

The only way out of this trap is to renounce the foreign empire and renounce the domestic empire.

Renunciation can occur at the national level from the top down with a bottom up impact from the voting public, or it can occur from the bottom up away from Washington in localities, states, and throughout the justice system. National renunciation is not the only course. The other ways have great merit. Americans themselves can devise ways to nullify what their federal government is doing, at the state level, for example. Americans can create their own monies and their own decentralized parallel economies. Americans can use jury nullification. Americans can devise religious-based communities that obtain exemptions. Americans can gain control over police oversight boards and halt the militarization of police. Americans on their own can find ways to make themselves independent of the domestic and foreign empires.

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